With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life.

04 June 2009

Has Whole Foods Changed Their Peanut-Free/Nut-Free Policy?

You may recall an earlier post, Allergen Labeling Update: Whole Foods Responds, where I mentioned Whole Foods' policy on labeling products as peanut-free or nut-free:

"The Coordinator said that Whole Foods has very strict requirements which must be met in order for a product to be labeled and sold as "nut-free" or "peanut-free". In fact, there are only 2 nut-free products at Whole Foods: Sha Sha's Cookies and Divvies. In order for a product to be labeled as "nut free" or "peanut free", the manufacturer must provide documentation that the product is certified "nut free" or "peanut free" all the way from the suppliers of ingredients to the finished product. "

I just read an article in the Worcester Telegram which states that Whole Foods in Framingham, Massacusetts and other North Atlantic region stores are selling cookies made by Massachusetts company, Indigo Rabbit. They sound quite lovely! It is the way the cookies are being marketed, specifically toward those with food allergies, that concerns me.

From the Worcester Telegram:
"The cookies, Gingerlicious, Luscious Lemon Chewies, Heavenly Chocolate Pillows, Seriously Cinnamon Almond and Perfectly Peanut Butter, all have a common ingredient — fresh vegetable puree. Suggested retail is $4.99 to $6.99, depending on variety.

The cookie names alone cry out, “Try me.”

But it’s the nutritional labeling that tells the story. Consumers who want a tasty cookie that is lactose free, gluten free, egg free, nut free, soy free and vegan turn to Indigo Rabbit, according to Foster, a former psychotherapist who specialized in eating disorders."

These cookies are in packages bearing various allergen-free symbols, depending on the variety. Some varieties actually bear a peanut-free symbol and nut-free symbol, despite the fact that the company manufactures peanut butter and almond cookies. Confused? Did our eyes deceive us? They use nuts and peanuts in their manufacturing facility and declare cookies without those ingredients to be "peanut-free" and "nut-free"? This is a perfect example of why the FDA needs to set standards thresholds or allergen-free claims.

From the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary:

"intransitive verb : to lead astray : give a wrong impression"

The company does provide additional information on its allergen policies and procedures to avoid cross-contamination. The information on their website sounds familiar, like the statements that major companies such as Kraft or Heinz read to me when I call for additional information about potential for cross-contamination. I am sure you've heard those statements too.

It seems it's time to call Whole Foods again and inquire about any changes to their definition of peanut-free and nut-free. I'm all for mom-preneurs and supporting local business, and if we did not have a peanut allergy in the family, I'm certain we'd happily enjoy Indigo Rabbit cookies. I think it's fantastic that Indigo Rabbit is a local company making healthy cookies and I wish them much success. Getting a product into Whole Foods is a great accomplishment. Since we do have a peanut allergy in the family, however, I am painfully aware of the very real risks, and I am compelled to find out more. I can't just sit by and say nothing because I think of that unsuspecting customer who might buy that package of cookies with the comforting peanut-free or nut-free symbol, and might unknowingly give a peanut or nut allergic loved one a cookie which she thinks is 100% peanut-free or nut-free.
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